Wales won their first test match on the bounce, and kicked off the series against Argentina with a comfortable win over a lacklustre Los Pumas team in San Juan on Saturday night.
After winning the first match on tour against South Africa in Washington last week, Warren Gatland stuck to his guns over giving everyone a game, and rang the changes in the 23 as captain, and man-of-the-match against the Springboks, Ellis Jenkins missed out on the squad entirely, as did try scorer on international debut Tomos Williams.
Plenty of Scarlets returned to the starting XV after being rested last week, as Rob Evans, James Davies, Gareth Davies, Rhys Patchell, Hadleigh Parkes and Scott Williams all got the nod, while Adam Beard and Josh Adams joined them in a team captained by Cory Hill for the first time.
It was one of those Scarlets in loosehead prop Evans who gave Argentina the chance to open the scoring though as he failed to roll away at the breakdown. Nicolas Sanchez of Super Rugby’s Jaguares, as indeed are all of the Pumas squad, slotted the penalty with ease for a 3-0 lead inside two minutes.
After six wins on the bounce in the Southern Hemisphere’s premier domestic competition, including first ever victories over Australian and New Zealand opposition away from home, Argentina were playing with confidence and dominated possession and territory in the early exchanges.
A loose pass and a box kick out on the full from Gareth Davies invited pressure on ourselves, but breakdown turnovers from Josh Adams and James Davies prevented the home side from building any meaningful attacking sets.
Then, in our first opportunity to play in the Argentinian half, Wales put the hosts to the sword.
The forwards made yards in the centre of the field, but with more than just one-up runners and plenty of ruck support to secure quick ball. Then on the front foot Rhys Patchell was able to take the ball to the line and move play on to Hallam Amos who freed his hands and produced a superb offload for James Davies to score in the corner.
Patchell nailed the conversion, but the next 10 minutes was all Argentina as they secured a turnover directly off kick-off and set about putting huge pressure on the Wales defence.
Although there were let-offs, as Sanches missed a simple kick to touch and then Bautista Delguy coughed up possession, continual Welsh infringements meant that the visitors could not clear our lines for any length of time and were lucky not to spend some time with a man disadvantage.
In the end though there was a brilliant James Davies turnover in our own 22, and after 15 minutes of almost solid defence, the exit was finally secured through the boot of Patchell.
With that defensive period over, it was time for Wales to turn on the attacking heat again. Off the top of an attacking lineout Gareth Davies noticed a mis-match at the back of the set piece as hooker Augustin Creevy covered a large area at the tail.
Jet heeled Davies motored through the gap and George North, restored to the wing after an underwhelming attempt to play outside centre last week, was on his shoulder to go third on the all-time list of Welsh try scorers. Patchell again converted for a 3-14 lead at the half-hour mark.
Argentina tried to hit back, outside centre Matias Orlando a permanent threat when given a yard, but the tireless defensive work of Ross Moriarty was a huge factor in stopping the home side, while Hadleigh Parkes marshalled the backs superbly. In the end there was only time for another Patchell kick to make the score 3-17 at half-time.
The second half started as the first one ended, with Patchell kicking a penalty to extend the Welsh lead, however after that it was all Argentina as Los Pumas ramped up the pressure yet again.
Unfortunately for the home side, they were up against a side in Wales who had come to flex their northern hemisphere breakdown muscles. James Davies led that effort, but Dillon Lewis, Elliott Dee, Cory Hill and Ross Moriarty were all pests as Argentina struggled to generate the quick ball on which they thrive.
The only real downfall in Wales’ defensive game was the persistent infringements, and Shaun Edwards will be looking to bring the number of penalties conceded, which finished at 14, down ahead of the second test next week.
In the end it took until the final five minutes for Argentina to finally break down the red wall put up by Wales. Santiago Medrano thought he had finally got over the whitewash under the posts after some quick driving phases, but that effort was ruled out for double end.
So it was down to replacement back rower Tomas Lezana to bludgeon his way over three minutes from time to get Argentina a try, which Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias gladly converted.
It was too little too late though, and when Wales won a penalty as the clock turned red, all that was left was for Gareth Anscombe to strike the ball through the uprights and leave the final score as 10-23 to Warren Gatland’s men.
Argentina will no doubt be disappointed by their performance, and will come back a new animal this week. Wales will need to be ready to be met with a huge battle at the breakdown, and one would imagine the scoreboard will be kept ticking over, rather than persisting with going to the corner.
However, take nothing away from our performance, particularly in defence where the organisation, scramble and the intensity was superb in the tackle, and the undying aggressiveness and pressure built on the breakdown.
Add in a cutting edge in the backline and it was a complete performance from Wales who will be pleased to win with yet more players putting their hands up as contenders for man-of-the-match. Selection decisions for Warren Gatland ahead of next week indeed, but it’s all good in the world of Welsh rugby, for the next few days at least.